The Rules

Like the modern Olympics, strict rules and regulations governed the ancient Olympics. The Eleans were accomplished promoters and sought to make the Olympic games a positive experience for all participants, athletes, and spectators. Consequently, the ekecheiria, or truce, was the most important rule. Originally initiated by three kings, Iphitos of Elis, Kleosthenes of Pisa, and Lykourgos of Sparta, for the period of one month, the Eleans extended the ekecheiria to three months. During the truce, participants from warring city-states could presumably pass through the territory of their enemy without jeopardy. To add to the positive atmosphere, no armies could enter Elis, and the death penalty was suspended.

Any Greek could participate in the Panhellenic Olympics. The geographic range of participants stretched from Sicily to the Black Sea. According to Olympic rules, slaves and barbaroi, non-Greeks, could not compete at the games. In addition, any man who had committed a crime or stolen from a temple was barred from participation. Married women could not enter the Olympic stadium or attend the games, although young girls (virgins) and the priestess of Demeter Chamyne were welcomed. According to Pausanias, punishment for a woman attending the Olympics was to be thrown off mount Typaeum.

One woman, Kallipateira, defied the rule by disguising herself as a trainer so she could watch her son compete. She had trained him following her husband’s death. Kallipateira was so elated when her son won that she jumped over the barrier that enclosed the trainers’ area and lost her clothing. Her identity revealed, Kallipateira faced certain death. Happily, because her father, three brothers, nephew, and son were Olympic victors, the officials pardoned her in honor of her victorious family.


A huge man, Herodoros of Megara’s Olympic career as a trumpeter spanned over 40 years because he won ten successive trumpeter championships. Herodoros’ trumpeting skills served King Demetrios Poliorketes well. By loudly blowing two trumpets at the same time, Herodoros instilled such bravery in the hearts of the king’s men that they defeated the town of Argos.

At the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, John Stephen Akhwari of Tanzania started the Olympic marathon with all the other runners but finished it alone. With only a few spectators remaining in the stands and the winner of the marathon crossing the finish line over an hour earlier, the lone runner entered the stadium. Bandaged and bloody, Akhwari crossed the finish line. When asked by a reporter why he did not just quit he answered, “My country did not send me to Mexico City to start the race. They sent me here to finish.”

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